Pro-Con Debate Topics, Formats and Preparation

Debate has become one of the most effective teaching tools inside and outside the classroom. It will not only increase the breadth and depth of a students base of knowledge about the debate topics, but will oftentimes force them to look at their personal beliefs from different points of view. Debate also teaches students a number of essential skills that can benefit them later in life.

Public speaking has long been a common fear for a majority of adults, however debate offers students a chance to become comfortable with public speaking during their youth. It also helps students understand the fundamentals of communication such as clarity, brevity, and focus. Additional life skills that students can learn from debate include basic organizational skills, critical thinking, persuasion, and research abilities.

Typical Debate Formats

There are a number of different debate formats, ranging from casual in class debates to extremely competitive formal debates. For debates to be successful, they must include the pros and cons of many issues. Here is a quick look at some of the most common forms of debate, all of which focus on current debates in society and the pros and cons of popular issues.

Policy Debate

The term policy debate can encompass a number of forms of debate as well as a number of high school and collegiate debate organizations including: NDT, CEDA, and state high school organizations. In this form of debate, students are required to research and use “evidence” or quotations from authoritative sources.

In policy debate there are normally two teams of two debating the pros and cons of a potential policy change. Because of the amount of research required for policy debate, the debate topics are decided on months before the debate occurs and will remain the same throughout the course of the season. This allows for students to dive very deeply into the topic area and gain a great amount of knowledge on both sides of the issue.

Lincoln Douglas Debate

Lincoln Douglas Debate is unique because it is the only form of debate where it one person against another instead of two teams against each other. Lincoln Douglas debate was created to mirror the famous debates of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in 1858. On the high school level, this form of debate tends to lean greatly towards contrasting philosophical perspectives whereas the collegiate level focuses primarily on specific policies.

Parliamentary Debate

Parliamentary Debate, or Parli, is based on the debates that take place in British parliament. It is often either teams of two or four students and they square off against another team. The resolutions are given out before each round, often giving students 15-20 minutes to prepare.

This form of debate is not evidence based, which forces students to stay on top of current issues and events. Parliamentary debate is considered to be a unique form of debate because the opposing team can ask questions while the other team is speaking.

Additional Forms

There are a number of additional forms of debate including Mock Trial, Student Congress, Model U.N. and many more. Each of them having their own unique set of rules and regulations that must be followed.

Preparation

While preparation strategies vary greatly from form to form, there are several constants that span every genre. Students will always have a good grasp of current events both locally, nationally, and internationally. They will also prepare for tournaments months in advance, taking a detailed look at both sides of the issue. This often encompasses hours of relentless research and hours of strategy sessions in order to be successful.

Quick Tips to Speaking Persuasively

1. Confidence

As with any other aspect of competition, confidence is critical. It is important for students to remember that in debate there is no “right” answer. Both teams have their own set of conflicting opinions, and both have merit. By appearing confident about what they are saying, students will seem more persuasive about the debate topics.

2. Filler Words

If you watch great presidential debates or even successful academic debaters, they do not use filler words. Filler words include: uh, um, hmm, and…and…and. These words carry add no meaning to what is being said and are used to fill the silence when someone is thinking about what to say next. Silence is much better than filler words. Filler words make speakers look unprepared and often uneducated about popular issues.

3. An Open Mind

There are times when debater must argue against viewpoints that they actually agree with. If they cannot have an open mind, they will not be able to argue against their beliefs. Even if you do not agree with what you are saying, that doesn’t mean that it is not as valid, otherwise current political debates wouldn’t exist.

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